Serving in Phnom Penh Week 2, 3, and being home

Faith, World

It has been a month since we left Cambodia, and my memories of our experience are getting a little fuzzy. In the midst of luxury, it’s hard to recall what it’s like to walk bare footed among chicken poop.

On one of the days at the province church, the teachers organised a combined session for the children. It was Women’s Day (8 March) and in Cambodia, it’s recognised as a public holiday. The children from the different classes gathered for a time of games, songs, and learning. That gave us the opportunity to not only know the children better, but also to interact with the teachers.

20180308_090707e

Our last weekend in Phnom Penh was spent playing tourist in the city. We went to a crafts & food fair, which was set up not far away from Tuol Sleng genocide museum (also famously known as S21), and also visited the riverfront.

20180310_154037e

20180310_172110e

Many of the stalls were selling handmade items, but two businesses in particular stood out to me. I found Angkor Bullet Jewellery especially meaningful as they make beautiful wearable jewellery pieces from bullet casings and bomb shells collected across the country. The owner of the business, Chantha, told us that as a designer, he believed this was a way to show that Cambodia is rising up from the tragedy of its past.

20180310_160037e

20180310_172605e

The other business definitely worth a mention was L’Irrésistible, a brand of jams run by Action Cambodge Handicap. These jams are made and bottled by people with autism and intellectual disabilities. I happened upon this brand at a supermarket but didn’t know of its story until I stopped by their stall at the fair. The sale of these jams not only provide the people with jobs, but also help to sustain Action Cambodge Handicap, which offers these people a safe place to stay and work.

Later in the day, we made our way to the Royal Palace. We didn’t go in, but stayed outside where lots of local families were gathered on the lawn and benches. Hawkers came by peddling ice cream, balloons, snacks. Flocks of birds flew about in the air.

We took some photos and then crossed over to the riverfront.  We strolled along the Tonle Sap, passing families with kids, dating couples, and groups of young men playing Sepak Takraw.

20180310_180314e

Eventually, we came to the end of the beautiful footpath and found ourselves in front of a night market. The music was loud, the crowd was a giant writhing mass, but out of curiosity, we entered and discovered that all the way at the back of the market was this open-air courtyard flanked by food stalls on all sides. Ground sheets were already laid as an invitation for people to sit and eat. It looked like one huge picnic.

20180310_193722e

Over the next few days, we tried the food at different places, including a beer garden. I might do a separate post on the eateries and cafes we visited.

The last couple of days before we flew home was spent mainly at the province church. By this time, we had come to know the local teachers fairly well and I really liked them. The children had also begun to trust us and I often found myself on the receiving end of excited Khmer chatter, of which I did not understand. I had also grown comfortable with the rural environment and quite enjoyed the company of chickens scuttling about my feet.

20180309_164832e

I hope, by the grace of God, I have served the people well. And I hope I return soon.

 

Advertisements

Serving in Phnom Penh Week 1

World

We have been in Phnom Penh for about 1.5 weeks now. Thanks to Revd Steven and Gwen who have helped so much in getting us settled in, we are familiar with the neighbourhood and have got into a rhythm of the life here. It’s hard to believe that in another 1.5 weeks, we will be leaving and heading back home.

R and I go to the province church three times a week to help with the English classes that have just started. I help to create materials and learning resources, and during the lesson, I conduct English word games. R takes photographs and videos, and also helps to train the current teachers in their lesson delivery and class management skills.

20180228_134454e

Outside of work, we have explored a bit of the neighbourhood we’re staying in and found that it’s teeming with eateries, cafes, and supermarkets. One of the food places we frequent is a stall that serves rice and dishes. For US$2, you get to choose a dish of your liking, which can be vegetables, meat, or soup. It is served with a pot of rice, of which you can eat as much as you can, and a pot of tea, of which you can drink as much as you can. The food is great and we have been going there almost every day.

20180304_201404e

We also visited a couple of cafes for drinks and desserts and a number of supermarkets to compare prices of snacks and yoghurt. On one of the days last week, we walked around Russian Market and most recently, we headed down to Aeon Mall to catch the movie Red Sparrow.

To move around, R downloaded PassApp, which enables us to book the new tuk-tuks. It works just like Grab and Uber. Prices are reasonable and it gets us places without us having to haggle for a better price.

20180227_154739e

These new tuk-tuks are smaller in size compared to the traditional tuk-tuks, ferrying a maximum number of three instead of six, but since there are just the two of us, we have no problems using the new tuk-tuks.

Yangon Day 9 to 11: Shopping and Packing

World

The last three days in Yangon were spent in a more lazy fashion, with much time afforded to sleeping, shopping and dining.

We were again at Bogyoke Market and this time, we stumbled upon a side alley where men and women were huddled in small groups either along the road or over small tables with snacks and tea. We soon realised that many of these were part of the gemstone trade. People were simply buying and selling gemstones on the street.

20170930_163926e

We also visited a street that was presumably known as the place that gem dealers hawk their precious wares. In a makeshift stall located at the end of the street, R found some stones that he had been looking for and we spent a fair bit of time looking through the array of items on display.

Back at Bogyoke market, I joined Mel to look at Chin fabrics while R went to look at more gemstones. At Yoyamay, we bought pouches, cushion covers and a throw made of handwoven fabrics.

I had wanted to visit some furniture shops, but with R being unwell for a couple of days, we didn’t quite make it to any on this trip. On our last night though, we came across a “gift shop” which sold homewares and at a pretty affordable price too. It was really an accidental find as we were supposed to meet Mel for dinner at a restaurant next door and simply wandered into this shop out of curiosity.

It was more of a shop selling handcrafted goods than a “gift shop”. I bought some chopsticks (how Chinese am I?!), a rattan basket, and R bought a magnet that is now stuck on our refrigerator at home. I do like the products in this shop and may return on our next trip.

20171001_121720e

One of the things we ate during those last few days was chicken biryani. It was way more oily than the version we get in Singapore but the smell and the taste were so good.

20171001_212029e

Our last dinner in Yangon was at Sofaer & Co. Opened just few months ago, it’s a beautiful restaurant that serves fusion Burmese dishes. The interiors were so pretty.

20171002_092726e

We couldn’t leave without having mohinga again so we decided to have it for breakfast on our last morning.

Yangon Day 5 to 8: Adventures In and Around

World

We are now back in Singapore and feeling slightly unsettled by an unpleasant incident that had happened with the Burmese customs. Aside from that, the trip was still a good one and I’m gonna jot down some highlights of days 5 to 8.

I accompanied R to the Professional Development Conference on Day 5. He was there to speak on his topic “The Teacher’s Toolbox”. It was eye-opening for me to be at a professional event and I learnt a few things observing and speaking with people.

20170927_090922e

The next day, I took the train up to an area away from the city to visit a special school called Eden Centre. I had already scheduled a time with the staff some days prior. They brought me around to see the classrooms and the different children, teachers and staff who work there.

Eden Centre is privately run and supported by donations. As I walked around, I remember feeling very impressed with the work that was being done. The centre deals with global delay, autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and takes in children from ages 0 to 18. There are physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and a training manager. There is a training room and even a hydrotherapy pool. I left the centre feeling heartened by what I saw and experienced.

20170927_103452e

Across those few days, Mel also brought me around to some pretty cool places, like 50th Street Bar and Pansodan Art Gallery. We had ramen at a Japanese restaurant, bought fresh flowers from the night market for her house, and had Shan noodles at the almost-famous 999 Shan Noodle House.

20170929_132025e

She took an afternoon off work to take me cycling on an island. Locating the jetty and getting on the right boat were enough of an adventure in themselves, so much that I was ready to go home by the time I landed on the island. We eventually spent about 2.5 hours on the island.

20170929_150157e

This island, called Kanaung To, comprises just one main road and many little villages connected by small winding paths. A local woman loaned us the use of a bicycle for two hours and so we were able to cycle around and explore the land. The kids were very curious to see us, staring and waving as we passed.

The next three days were spent seeing more of the city and shopping at Bogyoke market. More in the next post!

Yangon Day 1 to 4: Energy Within the Chaos

World

We have been here in Yangon, Myanmar for over a week now. This city is gritty, chaotic yet beautiful and bubbling with so much energy and enthusiasm at the same time.

20170922_150817e

One week isn’t long, but neither is it too short to fully experience a city. Our first three nights were spent in a B&B in downtown Yangon. On our first day, we walked down Strand Road, made a turn and came across a large night market, full of hawkers selling food and makeshift stalls peddling all kinds of items.

20170922_173631e

As we walked on, we found ourselves at Maha Bandula Park and not far off, was the Sule Pagoda. It stands as an island in the middle of a roundabout, splendid and shimmering.

20170922_181930e

We met up with a Singaporean friend who lives in Yangon, who took us to dinner at Shan Yoe Yar, a popular restaurant serving Shan cuisine. We had Shan noodles and shared additional dishes. One egg dish, in particular, was absolutely delicious.

20170922_192855e

The second and third day were spent gem shopping at Bogyoke Market and the Gem Museum respectively. R managed to meet his Burmese gem dealer friend and I suspect that he will be meeting her again before we leave.

20170924_134953e

We also went to Junction City, the newest mall to open in Yangon, and Myanmar Plaza, one of the city’s largest malls. Stepping into these malls was like being transported back to Singapore — great if you need a respite from the chaos, not so great if you need a respite from Singapore.

We met up with Mel, another friend who lives in Yangon, and she introduced us to some local food places she frequents. One of these was Lucky Seven, where we got to try mohinga, milk noodles and prata. Yes, like Singapore, Myanmar has prata too.

20170923_140424e

20170923_131141e

In the evening, she brought us to a local beer garden to have barbecue and drinks. By the the third night however, we succumbed to our Singaporean taste buds and had Aston’s for dinner.

We moved to a hotel on our fourth day, choosing it for its proximity to the city centre as R was going to have a number of meetings there. Much of the day was then spent catching up with work before we had hotpot dinner and retired to our room.

The next few days became some of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in Yangon. I attended a conference, visited a special school in the outskirts, and even went cycling on an island. More in the next post.

Mission

World

R and I returned from a mission trip to Cambodia last week. It was very good to be back at a place I’ve thought about often. 

We went with Aunty Joyce, Steven, Ruth, Lay Eng, Adeline, Veron and Josephine. I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with these wonderful people.

Without fail, I’m also blessed by the people there. The simplicity of life is also one that strikes me.

Now that we’re back, it’s time to think about how we can contribute when we go there again.

The headline is apt.

World

When universities in Japan announced a month ago that they would be abolishing the humanities and social sciences faculties, I was not sure I understood it. Eliminate the arts from education–say what?

According to this article from AsiaOne,

“Japanese universities are being forced to review their organisations from the ground up, due to the declining birthrate and severe international competition among universities.

Compared with the creation of new industries and technological innovations that stem from science and technology studies, it is difficult for humanities and social science studies to demonstrate tangible accomplishments.”

I’m sure there is more than meets the eye.

Two days ago, Bloomberg published an opinion piece by Noah Smith covering this bit of news.

The headline read: Japan Dumbs Down Its Universities.

I couldn’t agree more. The headline is apt.

Aside from commenting on economic productivity and policy making, the author also made this important point on political discussion.

There may or may not be political reasons for the change. Japan’s humanities departments, like those in the U.S., lean heavily to the political left, and Japan’s conservative administration is in the process of reorienting security policy. More darkly, the change might be part of a wider attempt by social conservatives — Abe’s main power bloc — to move the country in a more illiberal direction by stifling dissent and discussion.

Is this what it is really about? A fear of the intellectual and a struggle to remain in power?